Ah, vending machines. You can get just about anything you want from a vending machine. Soft drinks, candy, gum, potato chips, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, newspapers, stamps, postcards, lottery tickets, cigarettes, photos, detergent, aspirin, even condoms.
Here's a coin-operated contraption that debuted at the Second Automatic Vending Exhibition and Convention at the Royal Horticultural Hall, Westminister, London in 1960. While it doesn't seem to have caught on, it's worth a look (and whatever loose change you may have in your pocket):
I'm still trying to find out if you need to show the machine your ID.
The elements in The Wizard of Oz powerfully fill a void that exists inside many children.
For kids of a certain age, home is everything, the center of the world.
But over the rainbow, dimly guessed at, is the wide earth, fascinating
and terrifying. There is a deep fundamental fear that events might
conspire to transport the child from the safety of home and strand him
far away in a strange land. And what would he hope to find there? Why,
new friends, to advise and protect him. And Toto, of course, because
children have such a strong symbiotic relationship with their pets that
they assume they would get lost together.
--Film critic Roger Ebert
Some hifalutin' talk there. So just what is this Wizard of Oz that Ebert's so gung ho about? Let's look at the trailer (by the way, don't be fooled by the Warner Brothers logo in the bottom right-hand corner. It was made at MGM, but Ted Turner, who owned the once mighty studio for about three minutes in the 1980s, sold it off but kept the film library, before selling it and just about everything else he owned to Time Warner.)
Oh, all right, Rog, you win. I'll give it a thumbs up.
Nick Meglin died earlier this week at the age of 82. Not a famous name to be sure, but if you're the type of person who reads the mastheads of humor magazines (I know I am), you'll recognize him as first an assistant editor of Mad magazine from 1956 to 1984, and then co-editor (with John Ficarro) until his retirement in 2004, and even after that he was listed as a "Contributing Editor" for quite a while. Meglin started out as an illustrator, but quickly moved on to writing comic books for the legendary (and, at the time, somewhat notorious) E.C. comics in the early 1950s. He wrote dramatic fare but really found his metier with humor when he became one of the writers of Panic, EC's ripoff of its own comic book version of Mad. In the mid-50s, EC publisher William M. Gaines decided to give up on comic books after imposition of the "comics code", and turned Mad, much to the delight of founding editor Harvey Kurtzman, into a "magazine" (basically a black-and-white comic book sold alongside such periodicals as Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post.) Soon after that transformation was complete, Kurtzman was snatched up by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (for whom he did the short-lived Trump years before the satire incarnate ended up in the White House, but became better known for the long-running Little Annie Fanny) and was replaced with horror comic writer/artist and Panic editor Al Feldstein, who was very good at producing a magazine on time but not necessarily the funniest guy in the world. That task was left to Meglin. Though only 10 articles were credited to him during his five-decade stint at Mad, he's been credited by all those involved with much of the uncredited humor in the magazine, such as introductions to articles and the names of departments (a satire of the movie Patton could be found in the Great Scott Department) as well as the pithy masthead quotes of Mad 's mascot, whom I'll get to in a second. Nor was Meglin's original career as an illustrator completely forsaken. Some of you might recall this drawing in the Letters to the Editor section:
But Meglin's greatest contribution may have been that mascot I mentioned earlier:
Megin didn't create this fellow, who had originally popped up in late 19th-early 20th century advertising. Nor was it his idea to put him on the cover of something titled Mad; that would have been Kurtzman for an early paperback collection. Kurtzman also came up with the moniker Alfred E. Newman, though he never called the mascot that. It was just an odd name he used from time to time throughout the magazine. According to all concerned, it was Meglin who brought the mascot and the name together, and, furthermore, came up with the idea of having Alfred on the cover in a neverending (to this very day) series of situations, such as:
Richard Williams illustrated the above, but Meglin reportedly came up with the idea. Perhaps he did a rough draft (in which case he was lucky some cop wasn't driving by.)
OK, this is called Vital Viewing, so it's about time I coughed up the actual video. It's a couple of New Years Eve parties emceed by longtime Mad writer, longtime Match Game writer, and, in recent years, Giz Whiz podcast co-host Dick DeBartolo. After a short bit with publisher Gaines, they'll be two equally short bits with Meglin:
Before you ask, no, none of them were ever on The Gong Show.
(This post originally appeared on April 3, 2011. I've tweaked it a bit, and added pictures.)
Those of you who read my essay "American Blandstand" some years back
might have gotten the impression that I'm much more of a hardass about music
than I actually am. In that piece I sort of adopted a snobby attitude as
a way of explaining Dick Clark's place in the scheme of things. But my
own tastes in music are evolving all the time. In fact, if you look at the music section on my Blogger profile page, you'll see that I have artists
as diverse as Janis Joplin and Bing Crosby. More so than literature or
even movies, I'm constantly changing, and expanding, my mind on the
subject of song.
This started early. I entered high
school liking Barry Manilow, and exited a fan of Bruce Springsteen. Lo,
these many decades later, how do I feel about those two? Well, I still
like Bruce, though I'm nowhere near as fervent a fan I once was. And
Barry? For a long while I had him filed under "What the Hell Was I Thinking?", but a few years ago decided that was too harsh. As befits the Digital Age, Manilow is now "Pending". Maybe if Bette takes him back...
One of the acts I kidded in the Dick Clark post was Captain
and Tennille. Maybe I shouldn't have. I actually think Toni Tennile's voice was exceptionally
suited for rock and roll. Too bad it's not what she sang.
It was listening to an oldies station that got me thinking about music. First, I heard "Money" by Pink Floyd. This is
a song that delighted me to no end whenever I heard it played growing
up in the 1970s, not so much for if its trenchant critique of capitalism
as because back then it was the only time you could hear an
approximation of the word "bullshit" on the radio. About an hour after "Money", the same oldies station played "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee
"Money" and "Stayin' Alive"? Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees? On the same radio station?
You had to have been a teenager in the 1970s to appreciate the irony in that. Back then, you never
heard those two bands played on the same station. The Bee Gees were
disco. Pink Floyd was progressive rock. The Bee Gees were Top-40. Pink Floyd
was AOR. The Bee Gees were sequined skin-tight suits, and platform
shoes. Pink Floyd was T-shirts, and blue jeans. The Bee Gees lyrics were
short and repetitive. Pink Floyd's lyrics were long, philosophical, and
symbolic (with the occasional swear word thrown in.) The Bee Gees made
you want to get up and dance. Pink Floyd made you want to sit down and
have a toke.
Pink Floyd emerged from London's
underground scene in the late 1960s playing a type of music that many
associated with psychedelia, a drug-inspired genre that had emerged from
San Fransisco's underground scene (a lot of burrowing going on.) Syd
Barrett was the lead singer, lead guitarist, and chief songwriter in those years, and
his whimsical lyrics were filled with fairy tale and outer space
imagery. Floyd charted a few times, and then Barrett, reportedly driven
mad by either LSD or the stress success brings on, dropped (or was kicked)
out of the band. Within a few years, Barrett had dropped out of sight
altogether. So far out of sight, he was routinely referred to in the
music press as the "late Syd Barrett" decades before he actually died! In the meantime, the psychedelic rock of Pink Floyd had gone Progressive.
Progressive was an attempt to move rock
closer to jazz, or, better yet, classical. Rather than the usual riffs
and licks and hooks and lyric-chorus-lyric of traditional pop songs,
progressive rock, sometimes called art rock, had intricate melodies,
intricate instrumentation, and intricate (and sometimes inscrutable)
lyrics. The average song was much longer, and often linked with other
songs on "concept" albums to form an epic theme or story. So unsuited
for Top-40 was progressive rock, a whole new radio format was created:
AOR, short for Album Oriented Rock, which dominated FM for a time.
Popular progressive bands included Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull,
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Genesis (back in the Peter Gabriel days.)
But the biggest prog rock band of then all was Pink Floyd, and the
biggest prog rock album of all time was Dark Side of the Moon (which contained the aforementioned "Money"), on the Billboard chart from 1973 until 1988!
The band had several more popular albums throughout the '70s, but the one that really sticks in my memory is The Wall .
A concept album about alienation that featured backing vocals by, among
others, Beach Boy Bruce Johnston (composer of Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs")
and Toni Tennille (hmm...I guess she did sing rock and roll, after all.) One song
"Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)", which actually did make the Top
40, exploded upon my high school senior class' collective consciousness
in the spring of 1980. The song's most identifiable trait was a chorus
of British schoolchildren singing, "We don't need no education, we don't
need no thought control." The children in my American high school were
so captivated by this song, they forgot all about the hostage crises in
Iran. Kids wrote the lyrics on blackboards. The song was played over the
PA system. One day I walked into study hall and saw the following
scrawled on a desk:
IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE WALL
THEN YOU LIKE DISCO
yes, disco. This brings us to the other group I heard on that oldies
station, the Bee Gees. The three Gibb brothers didn't
start out disco. Originally a Beatles-like pop/rock band, they first
achieved international success in 1967 with "To Love Somebody", a song
covered hundreds of times since. A string of hits followed, but by the
mid-1970s they had begun to run out of steam. They decided to give disco
a shot. Bullseye! They hit #1 with "Jive Talkin'". Another hit, this
time at number #7, was "Nights on Broadway", which featured Barry Gibb
singing falsetto for the first time. A year later they hit #1 again with
"You Make Me Feel Like Dancing". But their biggest success was yet to
Disco had evolved from late '60s funk and soul.
It was marked by simple lyrics, soaring vocals, and a 4/4 beat,
sometimes called "four-on-the-floor".
Synthesizers were also prominent. Nothing philosophical, or
inscrutable, about it. It merely asked you to dance. The genre was
gradually growing in popularity when Saturday Night Fever,
starring John Travolta and featuring the music of the Bee Gees,
premiered in late 1977. I can't think of any other movie during my
lifetime that had as much of an impact on the overall culture as that
one. Sure, Star Wars, which appeared earlier in the year, got a
bigger box office, but that movie's impact outside of theaters seemed
limited to toy stores. But thanks to Fever , and the Bee Gees three
#1 hits, disco was everywhere! Radio, obviously. It helped revive Top
40, which had been flagging of late. It was also all over TV. There were
disco specials, disco dance contests, even disco cartoons. It breathed
new life, in the form of better ratings at least, into Dick Clark's American Bandstand, which had been facing cancellation. In addition to the music itself, a whole kind of style of clothing, mostly influenced by Fever,
became popular. And, finally, actual discos, as in discotheques, the
buildings where a DJ played a record and patrons danced, became more
popular than ever. It looked like the craze would never end.
in the flicker of a strobe light, end it did. Why? Some blamed
homophobia. The music had originally become popular in gay clubs. Once
this became known, it didn't sit at all well with adolescent males, who
put a premium on masculinity (never mind that many of these same
masculine males had no problem rocking to a band named Queen.)
However, with the notable exception of the Village People, most of the
performers seemed to be straight. A good deal of them also seemed to be,
well, in fact, were, black. Thus, some have blamed racism. However,
disco followed the same pattern of almost every other musical form of
the last 150 years: invented by blacks, taken over by whites. Thus you
had the Swedish, and very Swedish-looking, ABBA. I've already mentioned
the Bee Gees. Oh, wait. Barry, Robin, and Maurice had a brother, who
performed solo. Only an albino could get much whiter than Andy Gibb.
and homophobia may very well have taken its' toll on disco, but I
suspect what really spoiled it for people, especially teenagers, who in
that pre-digital era comprised the biggest segment of the record-buying
public, was how quickly the music was adopted and co-opted by the some
of the most hackneyed and/or over-the-hill figures in the land. Rick
Dees ripped off Disney with "Disco Duck". Former pop idol-turned Polish
goodwill ambassador Bobby Vinton came out with the "Disco Polka".
70-year old Ethel Merman put out an album of discoized show tunes.
Plugging it on a talk show, she exclaimed, "You gotta keep up with the
times!" A lot of people were trying to keep up with the times--with the
intent of turning back the clock. I remember reading a silver-haired TV
critic's review of a new disco show in which he gushed that the dancing
was similar to the Big Band era of his youth. The Generation Gap was
turned on its head. The elders wanted you to like this new
music. Alice Cooper might have summed up the feelings of many teens when
during a concert he said, "Right now your parents are at home doing
this!", followed by a John Travolta-like pose.
early 1980s, disco had become a term of derision, which it remains to
this very day. Yet it may have been no more than a semantic fall from
grace. Researching this essay, I've discovered that such recent styles
as techno, trance, and house can be traced back to disco (don't ask me
to tell you the difference between any of those styles. I'm now
So, now that I've given you some
insight on Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees, and the styles of music they
represent, how do I feel about them both being played on the same radio
station? Well, as I'm basically liberal, I believe in inclusiveness. I
welcome all forms of diversity. It's from you. It's from me. It's a
right to like both Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees, Janis Joplin and Bing
Crosby, Bruce Springsteen and, maybe in another ten years, Barry
Manilow, once all those artists, whether still active or not, have
basically been assigned their place in musical history. But can you like
everything in the heat of the moment? Can you like everything and at
the same time create whole new musical genres in the heat of the moment?
No matter how mainstream or commercialized the two musical styles I've
described eventually became, they both had their roots in the
"underground". Undergrounds attract rebels. You don't rebel against that
you like. Progressive rock grew out of the psychedelia of the
counterculture. During that era, young people, at least the most
outspoken of young people, rebelled against their elders for liking
everything from the Vietnam War to ballroom dancing. Disco was first
popular among blacks and gays, two groups who were counterculture before
counterculture was cool, each retreating into their respective
undergrounds for reasons of practicality and survival, rebelling against
those who did not like them. I've left out punk rock so far, but that
genre came about partially because, in a London Underground much changed
from the one that existed ten years earlier, a young rebel named John
Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, loathed Pink Floyd as much as Pink Floyd fans
loathed disco. People associate creativity with thinking outside the
box, but the reason one wants to escape that box in the first place is
because they don't like what's inside.
sometimes it's not so much the artists as their fans who do the
rebelling. According to the many Elvis Presley biographies I've read (my
mother was an avid fan, and passed the books along to me), he liked
Dean Martin and singers of that ilk just as much he liked the blues
coming out of Beale Street in the early 1950s. Yet his teenage fans,
unaware of this and chafing under a sterile culture, saw Presley's music
as a radical break with the past, and it became just that. Although
Pink Floyd fans may have loathed disco, the members of Floyd themselves
didn't necessarily share that sentiment. My ears were apparently too
musically illiterate to recognize it at the time, but while researching
this essay, I was surprised to discover that the radio version of
"Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" is a disco mix! Had my
classmates, ears apparently as musically illiterate as my own, gotten
wind of that, not only would they have burned every copy of The Wall they could find, but also Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, Wish You Were Here, and Animals as well. But my classmates instead saw the song as a bulwark against disco, and we now have a hybrid for the ages.